Budapest is the capital of Hungary and an amazing city for a weekend break. We spent 5 days in Budapest in October 2016.
Our top 5 things to see and do in Budapest are:
- Walk from Fishermen’s Bastion to Gellért Hill taking in all the sights,
- Explore Hungarian history by visiting the House of Terror Museum and the Jewish quarter,
- Dance the night away in one of the many Ruin Bars,
- Cruise along the Danube river at night,
- Spend some time relaxing in the Hungarian Baths.
Continue reading below for more information and details on what we got up to on each day of our trip.
Day 1 – Arrival
Before beginning to explore what Budapest had to offer, a quick snooze was on the cards as we had an early start that morning thanks to West of Ireland travel dilemmas: 2 hour drive to Dublin, parking, shuttle bus, check-in, food, 3 hour flight.
After our recuperation a walk along the Danube river seemed like a perfect way to start our trip to get our bearings (note of caution: be prepared to wrap up, it gets chilly in October!). We found and took the obligatory pictures at the Hungary and Budapest signs like proper tourists, and strolled around city for a while. After one burger/chips to share for dinner (delicious – pity about our ordering skills!) and a few drinks in a bar very close to the hotel it was bedtime.
#Hello Hungary Sign
Day 2 – Castle Hill / Gellért Hill / Ruin Bars
A lot was packed into Day 2 in Budapest! We started the morning with a walk across the Chain Bridge (the oldest bridge in Budapest) which links Buda to Pest. Due to our early morning start and lack of caffeine we took the only way we could see up to Castle Hill – the Funicular (1,100 HUF for 3mins). This delivers you to the upper level in between the Royal Palace and Sándor Palace. There are steps up also if you are feeling energetic.
The Chain Bridge with the Royal Palace in the background
We spent some time walking around the cobble stone streets of the Castle Hill district. There are lots of boutiques to visit and small cafes to chose from for a quick break. Trinity Square, Matthias Church (Mátyás templom) and Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya) are just some of the sights. The views alone from the Bastion are well worth the visit. My favorite spot was sitting outside Matthias Church. I was mesmerised by the roof which is made of spectacular orange ceramic tiles which glitter in the sunshine. This area was very busy with tourists so if you are planing to visit, go early – as the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm!
We walked back past the Royal Palace which stands proudly above the river where equally beautiful views across the city can be seen from the Royal Palace courtyard. Gladly we wore runners as we decided to walk to Gellért Hill (~2.5km from Bastion). As the Statue of Liberty, which commemorates liberation from Nazi rule, can be seen from nearly all parts of the city it was straight forward to get there. On our way to the top we passed St. Gellért Monument which commemorates the bishop who died on the hill and thus aptly Gellért Hill was named after him.
Surrounding the Statue of Liberty is fortress Citadel where more panoramic views of Pest can be absorbed in. After a short break we walked back down the hill and along the Danube. In my opinion the best view and chance to take a picture of the Gothic styled Parliament building is from the Buda side of the Danube where you can get the whole building in one frame.
View of the Parliament Building
On our way back to Pest we spotted a path leading towards a tree lined island, Margaret Island, which sits within the Danube river. Sounds magical and it was if you are in to exercise and a break away from cars and city life. We gladly sat down and watched a water fountain show while soaking up the atmosphere and resting the feet after our walk from Gerert Hill!
Our walking continued and brought us up close and personal to the amazing and dramatic architecture of the Parliament building. It is possible to enter the Parliament building at a fee (4,000 HUF) with discounts possible for EU citizens with passport (2,000 HUF).
The Shoes on the Danube is not a far walk from the Parliament Building. This is a very poignant memorial to the suffering of Budapest Jews during Nazi rule. The shoes represent the scene where victims had to line up, remove their shows (as they were valuable), and were then shot into the Danube River. It is a very powerful memorial and after viewing it left me wanting to learn more about the history of the Budapest during the Nazi and Soviet rule and the plight of Jews.
The Shoes on the Danube
We continued walking on tired feet to the Jewish Quarter. Here we visited the Synagogue, Holocast Memorial and Heroes temple which are all situated together. The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street is Europe’s largest synagogue. It is also worth visiting the synagogue at night time as it glows under the yellow lighting. The Holocaust Memorial is both structural impressive and emotional. It stands as a weeping willow tree which has the names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust inscribed on each leaf.
Jewish Synagogue at night
After a quick stop off at the hotel we decided to try out some of the ruin bars. I didn’t know what to expect with the ruins bars as I had never heard of them before this trip. The outside of the buildings does not give any indication of the excitement going on inside. I fell in love with the atmosphere in there bars – old, casual, good music, chilled and no preconceived notions. I hope these bars become a thing in Ireland to give an alternative to the usual night out.
Szimpla Kert is one of the oldest ruin bars in Budapest and is a must visit with pizza on offer, spiral staircases leading to different rooms (can be difficult carrying a pint!), shisha pipes, eclectic and random furniture. We also visited Extra thinking it was going to be the same as Szimpla Kert however it seemed to be a more up market type ruin bar, definitely not casual / quirky so after two-three drinks we went back to the hotel for a well earned night of sleep!!
Day 3 – Exploring Budapest’s History / Some More Ruin Bars
I believe when visiting a city it is important to learn about the history of the area, and in Budapest there is history in every corner. We walked out to the Terror Museum along the Andrássy Avenue (passing fancy ass shops – Gucci, Versaci etc) following the path of the Millennium Underground, and later continued on to Heroes’ Square. This is a long walk (>2.5km one way!), so be prepared! The House of Terror Museum (2,000 HUF) commemorates the victims of both the Communist and the Nazi regimes in Hungary. It was very interesting but also difficult to read and learn about Hungary’s past.
Heroes’ Square lies at the entrance to the city park and is Budapest‘s largest square. It was erected to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Hungary. On our way back into the city we had our first taste of Goulash, a paprika with beef soup. I’ll let you taste it and make your own mind up!
Panoramic of Heroes square
We liked the ruin bars so much on Day 2 that we went to look for some more! Fogas Ház és Kert was half outdoor with another half under a circus tent. It had trees lit with fairy lights giving it a cool vibe. It was quiet when we went there (6pm!) so after 2 drinks we moved on and after dinner and a visit to a few more bars, we ended up arriving at Instant. It was was class. Said simply. It is like a maze with stairs leading up and down. There were small, weird and wonderful rooms with random pictures, owls, wallpaper, you name it in each room. Music was different in every room so if you’re not into it you keep moving. Here we tried our first Palinka (traditional Hungarian spirit) – good stuff.
Day 4 – Hungarian Baths / St. Stephen’s Basilica
A trip to Budapest is not complete without visiting the baths. We went to the Széchenyi Baths (5,600 HUF) which are located within the City Park. With 18 pools to chose from we were kept busy and entertained. There was a bit of confusion trying to find the towels which took about 20mins so bring your own to save some money and hassle. Other than that it was relaxing and different, being in a warm pool when it was chilly outside was a nice treat and when in need of a rapid warm-up head to the sauna, extreme!
We visited St. Stephen’s Basilica which is the largest church in Budapest and holds St. Stephen’s, the first king of Hungary, mummified right hand in a glass case. In my opinion its a typical opulent example of a church with gold trimmings, an organ and an extravagant dome. Go just to say you’ve seen a mummified hand!
We ended our trip with a night time cruise along the Danube river. There are a number of river cruises that can be taken to see the sights – day/night; lasting one hour to an evening dinner on board. After a few walks back and forth we booked onto the night tour (free drink and key ring included in ticket price (~5500 HUF) made our decision easier!!).
Budapest at night is amazing so I recommend taking the night-time tour as all the sights are lit up but bring a jacket and scarf! This is a tourist cruise with audio so it was nice to sit back look around and listen to the history of Budapest, its bridges and famous buildings.
Royal Palace at Night
Day 5 – Shopping / Flight home
All the normal high-street and tourist shops can be found in around Váci Street if you fancy some shopping. For people watching go into Vörösmarty Square and take a break with a lookout and coffee. The Central Market Hall is a great place to explore, with a fish market and grocery store in the basement, all types of food in the ground floor, and handcrafts, souvenirs and clothing on the first floor.
With souvenirs in hand, our trip had come to an end and it was time to bid farewell to Budapest. Overall Budapest is a cool city with a quirky vibe and the more you explore the more you fall in love and appreciate the history of the place. Bring your walking shoes as there is much to see but its doable within a few days. The Hungarian people we met were very friendly and helpful so we leave with great memories. We will definitely return for a future trip and another session in the ruin bars!
We stayed in the Arcadia Hotel Budapest, which was very central. It is rated 4 stars but in reality it is more like a 2/3 star hotel. Our room was very basic with a small bathroom (~€80 per night, including breakfast). Breakfast was adequate which was served in a Cuban styled cafe at the time we stayed. It was a buffet style breakfast with eggs, sausages and pastries aplenty. The hotel can order a taxi to the airport (~€30 one way). Overall for location alone this hotel was ideal for our long weekend.
We spent 4 nights in Budapest in October 2016 and all prices stated are approximates / current as of that date.